Bringing Past and Present Together

The Cal Alumni Association (CAA) named the Bowles Hall Foundation as the recipient of the 2017 Loyal Company Outstanding Volunteer Group Award. The award honors a CAA alumni chapter that has maintained a meaningful relationship to Berkeley while successfully engaging its members through events, programs, and philanthropic opportunities.

In 2005, a group of former residents established the Bowles Hall Alumni Chapter with a mission to renovate and refurnish the oldest residential college in the United States. When Bowles was built in 1929, it was modeled on the ancient residential colleges of Cambridge and Oxford. In August 2016, Bowles re-opened as a co-ed housing facility and now provides residence for 188 students from 31 states and 14 countries. Now a national model for student communities, Bowles Hall is a brilliant synthesis of the old and the new.

Board president John Baker ’68 lived in Bowles for four years as an undergraduate. “It was a great community,” he recalls. “I made a lot of friends. Bowles made a big, scary university more personal.”

Because Bowles is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the renovation project faced a number of obstacles. The exterior needed to remain essentially unchanged in order to comply with historical building requirements and maintain its iconic architectural aesthetics. Bowles sits elegantly in the Berkeley Hills, but directly on the Hayward fault. Retrofitting and renovations cost $45 million, all shouldered by the Bowles Hall Alumni Association in partnership with the Bowles Hall Foundation.

With a long-term university agreement in place, Bowles’s future includes financial stability, economic health, a clear succession plan, and an improved student experience.

“Our students want a strong connection with alumni…especially regarding professional fields,” says John. He currently mentors an engineering student and works to connect others with alumni. “You don’t get this in big dorms,” he adds. Students also participate directly in the Bowles community’s decision-making process.

John is clear students are the focus. “Today’s students are incredibly bright. Not just academically, but socially and politically,” he says. “Our fireside chats show them to be a lot more challenging. They ask tough questions. They are up to speed on the environment, politics, and current events. They wow me. We are so lucky to have them. We want to do everything we can to make their experience as fantastic as can be.”